Christ the King Catholic Church
Today is the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time. We might hear that and think, "So what?" But what it means is that we are at the very end of our Church Year. Next weekend we will conclude the Church Year with the Solemnity of Christ the King and, then, the following Sunday we will hear the familiar strains of" O Come, 0 Come, Emmanuel," as we celebrate the First Sunday of Advent and the beginning of a New Church Year.
In the last weeks of the Church Year, we are presented with readings that help us reflect on the end times. Saint Luke divided time into three periods: the period before the coming of Jesus which corresponds with the Old Testament; the period in which Jesus lived among us and the period between his Ascension into heaven and his second coming. We live in this last period of history in which we await Jesus' return. These are the end times.
From the time of Jesus' ascension until the present day, people have speculated on when the end will come. There are people who make their living by preaching on the end times. There are people who interpret the events taking place in the world at any given moment in history as a sign that the end is here. There are those who interpret every uprising, every natural disaster and every fall in the Stock Market in the context of the end times.
Do the things that we are witnessing today such as the wildfires in California, earthquakes in Italy, hurricanes on the east coast and the dysfunction of Washington mean that the end of the world is immanent, and that Jesus will return at any moment now? From what Jesus tells us in today's Gospel, probably not.
And so, for any of our high school students who have an algebra test tomorrow, my advice is go ahead and study!
As it was in the beginning, so it is now. Jesus tells us that these things are bound to happen. And in every age, there will be false prophets who claim that the end is near because of this or that natural or social disaster. Jesus says of these false prophets, "Do not follow them."
What we know for certain from what Jesus tells us about the end times is that he will return, and he will return at a time that no one expects. He tells us that knowledge of the time of Jesus' return is reserved to the Father alone.
In the Gospel today people are admiring the Temple in Jerusalem. It was one of the marvels of the ancient world. At the time of Jesus, it was undergoing a renovation so that it could accommodate a million pilgrims. Three times a year that many people would descend on Jerusalem for the feasts of Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles. Much of the fa9ade was covered with white marble and adorned with gold. The Temple was the pride of the Jewish world and the heart of Jewish worship. In an age before Polaroid sunglasses, it is said that when the sun would shine on the Temple people had to shield their eyes from the brilliance of the marble and gold. And yet Jesus tells the people who are admiring the Temple that the day will come when not a stone will be left standing on a stone. According to Jewish belief, the destruction of the Temple would be the sign that the end of the world had come. And so, people, understandably, ask Jesus when this will come.
In the year 70 A.D. the Romans swept into Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple to punish the Jews for insurrection after insurrection. All that was left standing was a part of the western wall that surrounded the Temple that is known as the Wailing Wall.
Saint Paul writes to the people of Thessalonica in today's second reading in the period following the destruction of the Temple. Some of the Christians in Thessalonica had taken early retirement and had stopped working because they were certain that the destruction of the Temple signaled that Jesus' return was imminent. They were sitting in their rocking chairs on their porches waiting for Jesus' return. Saint Paul tells them to get up out of those chairs and go back to work, earning the food they eat. The destruction of the Temple did not mark the end of time.
Jesus tells us that natural disaster, wars, and tragedies that befall individuals and communities will always remind us that the world as we know it will one day end. But, again, when that end will come no one knows.
Jesus tells us that during the end times Christians will suffer persecution and even martyrdom. By the time Saint Luke's Gospel was written, Christians had already been expelled from the synagogues and ostracized by family and friends. Martyrdom at the hands of the Roman Empire was on the horizon for the followers of Jesus. Jesus tells us these things so that when they happen, we will not be scandalized - not lose faith.
The late Cardinal Francis George of Chicago once said that he expected to die in his bed - as he did in 2015. He said that he expected his successor to die in prison and that his successor's successor would die a martyr in the public square. He understood what Jesus said in today's Gospel.
So, what is our response? If we don't know when Jesus will return, what are we supposed to do?
For some people the waiting is long, and faith is abandoned. That was true for early Christians and it is true for people today.
For others, in spite of what Jesus says in today's Gospel, a game is made of predicting when the end will come and whipping people into a frenzy and even forming cults like that of Jim Jones and Jonestown.
For us, the words of Jesus in today's Gospel, are our guide. "By perseverance you will save your life." Our discipleship is not a sprint, it is a marathon. Through the ups and downs of history, through the course of disasters and even persecutions, Jesus tells us to go about the business of our lives persevering in faith, hope and love. Jesus promises us that through it all he will be with us. And we are here at the Eucharist this morning and every Sunday to be strengthened for the week ahead so that no matter what it will hold we will persevere in our faith, hope and love.
What the future will hold, no one of us knows. What this week will hold, we do not know, but who holds this future we do know.
As we go about the business of another week of life, let us be faithful to all that God asks of us as we look forward in joyful hope to Jesus' return - whenever it may be. A few weeks ago, a friend gave me a coffee cup and on the cup is written, "Christ is coming- look busy!" May we not only 'look' busy but may we 'be' busy doing all the good that we can do.
Come to think of it, it might not be too early to start singing, "O Come, 0 Come, Emmanuel!